Oct. 22, 2002

AP Sports Writer

MADISON, Wis. (AP) – Chris Gamble is one of the biggest reasons Ohio State is undefeated and, at No. 4, a legitimate national championship contender.

Gamble’s interception at the goal line Saturday preserved the Buckeyes’ 19-14 victory at Wisconsin, the Buckeyes’ closest game since Gamble’s interception in the end zone in the final seconds at Cincinnati.

“You wish you could play him all the time,” Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel said after Ohio State improved to 8-0.

The Buckeyes have been using Gamble, a wide receiver, as a defensive back inside the 20-yard line, where coverages are simplified.

Gamble, a sophomore who caught three passes for 65 yards, ended the Badgers’ last serious scoring threat by picking off a pass from Jim Sorgi intended for Jonathan Orr in the fourth quarter.

“When I play wide receiver, it’s serious,” said Gamble, who has two interceptions this season. “When I play defensive back, it’s fun.”

Sorgi, who came in when Brooks Bollinger left because of a concussion in the second quarter, changed a run call at the line of scrimmage when he noticed the Buckeyes were in single coverage against Wisconsin’s receivers.

Orr, who had four catches for 107 yards, was Sorgi’s first option on the play, but Gamble stayed with him stride-for-stride, maintained inside position and made an off-balance grab as he tumbled into the end zone.

“Maybe it was a little underthrown,” Sorgi said. “Maybe he didn’t turn around in time to see it come. The DB made a heck of a play.”

Sorgi wanted to test Gamble: “The guy has been going both ways. You figure you give him a shot.”

Big Ten quarterbacks might rethink that now.

“You see the way he can go after a football,” Tressel said. “It doesn’t matter if it was intended for him or if he was covering the guy. He can go up and catch the football. He is just outrunning athletes.”

Ohio State (8-0, 3-0 Big Ten) has just three formidable opponents left – Penn State, Minnesota and Michigan – and they all must go to Columbus. Because the Buckeyes don’t play Iowa this season and don’t have to play in a conference championship, they could have the inside track to the Fiesta Bowl.

The Buckeyes have struggled on the road this year, but their two remaining road games are against Purdue and Illinois, who are a combined 5-10 this season.

Wisconsin, (5-3, 0-3) gave the Buckeyes their toughest test so far this season.

“That was the first game we’ve had this year that our defense faced people who just lined up and come right at you,” Tressel said. “We needed that experience. It’s going to pay dividends down the road.”

Freshman tailback Maurice Clarett rushed for 133 yards, including 63 in the fourth quarter. He now has 980 yards and needs 146 to break Robert Smith’s freshman record at Ohio State.